COVID-19. (Image courtesy CDC)

COVID-19. (Image courtesy CDC)

State COVID deaths rise above 800

Central Peninsula Hospital had fewer than 11 COVID hospitalizations and was operating at 86% capacity.

The number of COVID-19 deaths in Alaska has now surpassed 800, after the state reported Wednesday another nine deaths from virus complications.

That’s nearly equivalent to the entire population of Ninilchik.

Chief Medical Officer Dr. Anne Zink said during a public science forum Wednesday that even though data shows a slight drop in COVID cases and hospitalizations, there is still virus spreading.

“So while it’s great to see these numbers decreasing, (there are) still a lot of people hospitalized, a lot of people still have COVID-19,” Zink said.

The newly reported deaths on Wednesday pushed the total to 801 since the pandemic began.

Alaska remained at a high COVID transmission alert level Wednesday — with an estimated rolling average of 504.3 cases per 100,000 people across the state cumulatively over the past seven days.

The threshold for high alert level is 100 or more cases per 100,000 people in the span of one week. The state has surpassed that metric more than five times over.

Wednesday’s new case count included 11 each in Kenai and Soldotna, four in Homer, two in both the Kenai Peninsula Borough North and Seward, and one each in Anchor Point, the Kenai Peninsula Borough South and Nikiski.

Statewide there were 146 COVID-related hospitalizations as of Wednesday, with 22 patients on ventilators.

As of Wednesday, Central Peninsula Hospital had fewer than 11 COVID hospitalizations and was operating at 86% capacity, after many weeks of strained conditions and overflow. To protect individuals’ identities, the hospital does not report COVID hospitalizations if the number of inpatients dips below 11.

Health officials widely agree that vaccination is the best way to prevent serious illness, hospitalization and death from COVID, especially as Alaska is still leading the country in daily cases per capita, according to the New York Times.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention extended the emergency use authorization of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID vaccine for kids ages 5 to 11 early this month. Zink said even though children usually have a more robust immune response to COVID, some have still suffered from longer-term side effects of the virus.

“As a parent, you know, my kid gets a fever and I wish I could do everything in my power to help minimize that,” Zink said. “And we know that the risk of COVID is greater than the risk of the vaccine, even in that age group — that’s why it got approved for that age group.”

Besides protection, she said the social aspect of children’s lives has been upturned since the beginning of the pandemic.

“We need our kids in school and doing fun things and running and playing and just being connected in every single way,” Zink said.

The Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine is approved for everyone 5 years and older, while the Moderna and Johnson & Johnson/Janssen vaccines are approved for anyone 18 and older.

Pfizer and Moderna boosters and additional doses are also available for certain high-risk populations. Anyone who received the single-shot J&J vaccine is recommended to get a booster of any brand.

Getting a COVID vaccine

COVID-19 vaccines do not cost money.

Many different organizations on the central peninsula, including Walmart, Walgreens, the Kenai Fire Department and Kenai Public Health, offer vaccines. They are also available for both residents and visitors at airports in Anchorage, Juneau and Fairbanks.

Additionally, Soldotna Professional Pharmacy hosts a walk-in clinic in its strip mall storefront at the “Y” intersection of the Sterling and Kenai Spur highways. The clinic has extended its hours to Monday through Friday from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m., and opened Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Vaccination appointments can also be scheduled through the online portal PrepMod, which can be accessed at myhealth.alaska.gov.

A map of vaccine providers can be found on DHSS’ COVID-19 vaccine website at covidvax.alaska.gov.

People who would like assistance with scheduling a vaccination appointment can call the Kenai Peninsula Borough Office of Emergency Management call center. The center operates Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to noon. The central peninsula call center can be reached at 907-262-4636. The Homer call center can be reached at 907-235-4636. The Seward call center can be reached at 907-224-4636.

COVID testing locations

Officials encourage anyone with symptoms to test for COVID-19, despite vaccination status.

In Kenai, testing is available at the Chignik Lagoon Clinic, Odyssey Family Practice, Kenai Public Health Center and Capstone Clinic.

In Soldotna, testing is available at the Peninsula Community Health Center, Urgent Care of Soldotna, Walgreens and Soldotna Professional Pharmacy.

In Seward, testing is available at Providence Medical Center, Chugachmiut-North Star Health Clinic, Glacier Family Medicine, Seward Community Health Center and the Safeway pharmacy. Starting Sept. 14, the Seward Community Health Center is offering drive-through testing Tuesdays and Thursdays from 1 p.m. to 2 p.m.

In Homer, testing is available at South Peninsula Hospital, or through other area health care providers at Seldovia Village Tribe Health and Wellness, Kachemak Medical Group and Homer Medical Center.

Reach reporter Camille Botello at camille.botello@peninsulaclarion.com.

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